Women impacted by the CervicalCheck scandal are to receive a package of supports including discretionary medical cards, travel and childcare expenses, and counselling services.
The Government held a rescheduled Cabinet meeting in Dublin yesterday to address the crisis, which has impacted 209 women, 17 of whom died without being told of an audit into their smear tests which showed up different results.
Health Minister Simon Harris announced a number of “practical measures” for women, including covering the cost of medicine, taking in any “experimental drugs” prescribed by clinicians.
Counselling services including bereavement counselling will be provided, while travel and childcare costs will also be paid for.
The Cabinet has also signed off on the provision of discretionary medical cards for all affected women and their next of kin in cases where women have passed away. The HSE will arrange to exempt the women from prescription charges.
Women and families affected by the CervicalCheck controversy have been promised a package of measures including medical cards, travel expenses and counselling. | https://t.co/MeJfWiNYVQ pic.twitter.com/Uyb07tWKBA— RTÉ News (@rtenews) May 11, 2018
Mr Harris said he wanted to allow “flexibility” in the supports provided “because every woman’s circumstance will be different, every family circumstance will be different”.
He said: “We have tried to make decisions today that are practical; we put a lot of processes in place that are now establishing facts and that’s very important to establish who knew what, where and when.
“But it’s also about adopting a humane and compassionate approach to the women who have been adversely impacted, or to their next of kin in instances where they have sadly passed away.”
However, Leo Varadkar confirmed that it may be several weeks before the supports are set up and offered to women. Each of the women involved will be contacted to find out what assistance they need.
Mr Harris said mediation will be used to deal with the 10 pending court cases so that women do not have to be dragged through the courts like Limerick’s Vicky Phelan. The extent of the scandal only emerged after Ms Phelan was awarded €2.5m from a US lab in a High Court settlement.
It was then revealed that an audit by the CervicalCheck screening programme of 1,482 women diagnosed with cervical cancer since 2008 had found potential errors in earlier smear tests in 209 of the cases, with results showing no abnormalities when they should have flagged a cancer warning.
While screening tests are not 100% accurate and there are acknowledged risks of incorrect results, the fact that impacted patients were not told of the outcome of the audit has prompted a wave of public anger.
Emma Mhic Mhathúna has welcomed the range of supports announced by the Government for women and families affected by the cervical screening controversy, but says more needs to be done. | https://t.co/MeJfWiNYVQ pic.twitter.com/6qbQrrhSnY— RTÉ News (@rtenews) May 11, 2018
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said the package is “the least” that can be done. “It is welcome that the women are being prioritised at long last.
“Getting to the bottom of who knew what and when is crucial. It must be guaranteed that information will never again be withheld from women or any patient,” said Mr Martin.
The Taoiseach apologised to the women and their families and said the Government shares their “determination” to find answers.
He said as a doctor he realises that the most fundamental rule in medicine is to put the patient first and never do any harm.
People have been let down and are justifiably angry because these principles were not followed, once again patients were not put first. This must change and will,” said Mr Varadkar.